What We Are Reading Today: Michelangelo’s Design Principles by Erwin Panofsky

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Updated 24 June 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Michelangelo’s Design Principles by Erwin Panofsky

In 2012, a manuscript by renowned art historian Erwin Panofsky was rediscovered in a safe in Munich, in the basement of the Central Institute for Art History. Hidden for decades among folders and administrative files was Panofsky’s thesis on Michelangelo—originally submitted to Hamburg University in March of 1920, abandoned when Panofsky fled Hitler’s Germany in 1934, and thought to have been destroyed in the Allied bombings. A century on, Michelangelo’s Design Principles makes this remarkable work available for the first time in English.

Casting Panofsky’s thought in an entirely new light, Michelangelo’s Design Principles is the legendary scholar’s only book-length examination of the art of the Italian Renaissance. He provides a compelling analysis of Michelangelo’s artistic style and deftly compares it with that of Raphael, situating both Renaissance masters in the broader context of Western art. This illuminating book offers unique perspectives on Panofsky’s early intellectual development and the state of research on Michelangelo and the High Renaissance at a period of transition in art history.


What We Are Reading Today: Down from Olympus

Updated 06 July 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Down from Olympus

Since the publication of Eliza May Butler’s Tyranny of Greece over Germany in 1935, the obsession of the German educated elite with the ancient Greeks has become an accepted, if severely underanalyzed, cliché. In Down from Olympus, Suzanne Marchand attempts to come to grips with German Graecophilia, not as a private passion but as an institutionally generated and preserved cultural trope. 

The book argues that 19th-century philhellenes inherited both an elitist, normative aesthetics and an ascetic, scholarly ethos from their Romantic predecessors; German “neohumanists” promised to reconcile these intellectual commitments, and by so doing, to revitalize education and the arts. 

Focusing on the history of classical archaeology, Marchand shows how the injunction to imitate Greek art was made the basis for new, state-funded cultural institutions. 

Tracing interactions between scholars and policymakers that made possible grand-scale cultural feats like the acquisition of the Pergamum Altar.